Everything, it seemed, was building up to the game that night, and 10,000 people had jammed into the arena, to mourn and celebrate their team. Thousands of cigarette lighters provided tiny flames of remem- brance. A lone trumpeter played, as did a carillonist.
High at one end of the arena, against a blackened background were figures covered head to toe in black bodysuits, wearing luminescent white gloves. They moved their hands, their images projected onto the giant video board over the middle of the ice. Birds fluttering – doves – coming together, forming words, fluttering again; dancing and rising. Near the end, the birds formed the word “LOCA” in giant letters. The ceremony was simple, beautiful, and overwhelming.
It was time for the anthems. The Canadian and Russian flags were high and behind us. We turned to face them – and the crowd. Through the protective glass behind the bench, I could see this guy and girl standing together. They were about 20. Their eyes were wet with tears. Through the anthems, their expression never changed. The guy held his red-and-white banner high above his head, stretched out between his hands so you could read the name of his team – “Locomotiv.” The girl’s banner read, “Loca Girls.” They were proud, sad and resolute.
I knew what we needed to do. After the game, we went back on the ice and, as we turned to greet the cheering crowd, all 14 members of Team Canada 1972 raised Locamotiv banners high above our heads.
I saw Vladislav Tretiak, the great goalie. We had had our pictures taken together many times before, but this one was for me; for us. I handed him a banner. Together, we smiled for the camera – proud, sad and resolute.
The Yaroslavl part of the story seemed over, but it wasn’t. As we left the arena to take the bus back to the hotel – after a banquet for the two teams and more than two hours after the game had ended – on the street, in this city of 600,000 people who love hockey and their team, in the darkness of almost midnight, cars drove by in a procession, their headlights on, their flags and banners waving out of their windows and roofs, one after another after another.
“We are Loca.”
You never know what you’ll find when you go back. Maybe something you’re looking for; maybe something you’re not. If you’re lucky, maybe something new.